Most of us prefer not to think about death, especially when we are still young. But considering the implications of our death on others is the responsible thing to do. Drawing up a will that stipulates what we would like to happen to us and our belongings after death will make things easier for everyone else.
what is a living will?
Unlike a will, or “last will and testament”, which stipulates certain directives after your death, a living will relates to your end-of-life wishes while you are still alive.
According to Health 24, “in a living will, you give certain instructions in the event of a grievous medical condition that would render you unable to make or express your own decisions. Living wills are most often used to state that, should there be no reasonable chance of recovery, you do not wish you be kept alive through artificial life support.” They are also called “advanced health care directives”.
why is it important to put it in writing?
A living will can and should also include your organ donor wishes. Having this in writing can be reassuring for family members if they were not aware of your wishes. In your living will you could state more detailed instructions, allowing you to specify not only the organs, tissues, or body parts that you want to donate but also the purposes for which your donation may be used, for example, transplant, therapy, research, or education.
To ensure your living will or advance decision is followed, you must tell people that you have made one. It’s a good idea to write it down and give a copy to your loved ones and all those involved in your care. Your GP and medical team must know about your advance decision so that they can include it in your medical notes. You can change it at any time, but make sure that you clearly communicate, record and date these changes. It is still important to sign up as an organ donor.
how do i make a living will?
There are no official forms for writing an advance decision, although some organisations have produced various templates. The following guidelines could be helpful:
- Put the decision in writing.
- Include your name, date of birth, address and details of your GP.
- Specify what kind of treatment is to be refused and in what circumstances, as well as what your wishes are for your organs, giving as much detail as possible.
- Sign and date the document.
- Ask someone to witness your signature.
- You could ask your doctor or another relevant professional to sign a statement on the document saying that they have carried out an assessment of you and, in their opinion, you have the mental capacity to make the decision.
- A living will must be signed by you and two witnesses, in each other’s presence. Witnesses should not be family members, your doctor, or beneficiaries listed in your last will and testament.
- Ideally, there should be several copies (at least three) which you can give to family members and your doctor to keep. Make sure that anyone who may have to implement your directives knows about your living will and where it is kept.
- The treating doctor must have access to your living will in order to carry out its directives, and is legally bound to do so.
- A living will should not be incorporated into or attached to a last will and testament, as the latter is only acted on after your death and there’s a risk that your living will directives may only come to light then.
who should have a living will?
As we get older it becomes more important to have a living will, and while it is unusual for younger people to have a last will and testament, anyone over 18 should consider creating a living will. With regards to potential organ donation, it’s especially important that younger people have living wills so that, should they die, their healthy organs can be harvested to give someone else a new chance at life.